The Artist vs The Iron Lady

It’s the Oscars again and this is what I think of the main contenders.

I can understand why some people walked out of early screenings of The Artist not understanding it was intended to be a black and white silent movie. The reports seem to blame the audience for being ignorant and philistine. Well, I nearly walked out too. I found it intensely tedious for long stretches, only occasionally leavened with humour or real artistry. There is a reason silent movies died out – sound adds a significant extra dimension and it really isn’t true that if you lose one sense it heightens the others. The point was rather proven when after being told that sound movies were the future, Valentin(o) returns sullenly to his dressing room only to startle himself when he puts down a glass with a clunk which we all hear. Cute, but makes my point.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Iron Lady and while I do have some Tory friends who hated it, I found Meryl Streep’s portrayal sympathetic and utterly convincing. The film gives her due credit for blazing a trail for women in British politics. A nice scene has her standing in an all-male audience listening to her father on stage giving a political talk. A lady sidles up to her and hisses that she is supposed to be collecting tea cups, not standing listening to the debates. The camera pans back to show the kitchen at the back of the hall filled with ladies busy washing up. That part is still true in my recent experience, but at least now the audience and the speakers are likely to be an equal balance of men and women. Margaret Thatcher did that much. I loved the little vignettes of her and Denis enjoying breakfast together, or an evening drink, with Denis only visible to Margaret as he had long since died and she is reported to be suffering from dementia. If she is and that’s what it’s like for her, is it wrong to be happy for her? A little unsettling were the frequent flashbacks of angry mobs assailing her in her prime ministerial car, without any explanation in the film. There were a few highly risible scenes where she is seen sitting imperiously in a comfy chair while all her ministers stand uncomfortably in a huddle before her. That just doesn’t happen.

My special subject is the Falklands War and in that respect I have to say this film traduced her reputation. The scene we are shown where Lord Lewin is telling her he can have the fleet ready to sail in 48 hours doesn’t tell the whole story, and it should have done. All her ministers were telling her there was nothing we could do, that we should roll over and forget the Falklands, the Argies had captured them and it was all over. In walks Lewin and changes history. Yes we can get a fleet to sea, yes we can recover the islands, yes we can liberate the Falkland Islanders. That was just what Thatcher wanted to hear. But my blood boiled over in another scene where we are shown a mock military command centre and everyone telling Thatcher the Belgrano is sailing away from the fleet and heading back to port. This point is laboured in the film in order to add impact to a close-up shot of Thatcher literally snarling “Sink her,” seemingly against all the advice she had been given. The fact is, we knew what the Belgrano was doing, we knew it was a real threat, that it was intending to form a pincer movement with the Argentine aircraft carrier and attack the fleet. We knew it, and the Argentines know we knew it. But that didn’t stop Tony Benn and the rest of the left-wing intelligentsia from immediately then and to this day calling it a war crime. The Argentines never have. I shared a taxi across London a few years later with the gunnery officer who was on board the Belgrano when she was sunk, he never called it a war crime. Meryl Streep should apologise to Margaret Thatcher for that shameless left-wing piece of hate propaganda.

On balance, you would think The Iron Lady should walk away with best film because it is the better of these two. It stars the darling of Hollywood’s left in a film about the darling of Hollywood’s right. It’s like Charlton Heston playing Mahatma Ghandi. But modern Hollywood loves novelty and as we haven’t had a silent movie for almost a century I think on that score The Artist will win out. Next year’s best film will go one further, it will be a tape recording of an old man talking. Actually, think about Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast, now that’s gripping entertainment and it was all sound. That worked far better with sound but no pictures than The Artist did with pictures but no sound.

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